A still from one of the animated shorts about 19th century geniuses by Lorenzo Petrantoni

Lorenzo Petrantoni: The Rest of the Story

By Rufus Deuchler

Lorenzo Petrantoni wasn’t looking for a change when he opened a 19th-century volume in a Paris bookshop, but that’s what he found. The book’s illustrations “were like a bell ringing inside my brain,” he remembers. “How could such wonderful pictures lay deserted inside those dusty books?”

Since that day, the graphic designer/illustrator has turned forgotten imagery into editorial and commercial art for a range of high-profile clients, including Coca Cola, The Guardian, The New Yorker, and Nike. I recently spoke to Petrantoni about “Il Resto È Storia,” his animated series on luminaries of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Create: Did you make the "Il Resto È Storia” animations for a client, or for yourself?

Lorenzo Petrantoni: The animations are a project I presented to Sky Arte [a digital satellite television platform] here in Italy. After they approved it, I began producing it. 

The ideas and the stories were ready before I contacted Sky. The stories I wanted to tell inspired me so much that I asked them if they were interested. How could they not? Sky then supported my producing the animations, which they used as shorts in between programs. The anecdotes I chose are  little-known facts that allowed these people, who we now know and appreciate for their genius, to evolve from the common person to become great artists.

Don't speak Italian? There's also a subtitled version of this short about Vincent Van Gogh.

Create: Why did you choose these particular people?

Petrantoni: Behind some great people, there were specific moments in time that allowed them to become the genius we know today. Many of these life-changing events were purely casual, situations and strange alchemies that brought them to cross the line to greatness.

For example, Tchaikovsky and the person who commissioned most of his work had decided to never meet in person. I found out that they actually did meet at least once in front of a church in Florence. They briefly met, they greeted each other, and went their different ways. Pretty incredible.

Meet Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck, benefactor to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. For those not fluent in Italian, there's also a subtitled version.

Create: Where did you get the elements that make up the animations? How many of them are from old illustrations and how many did you create from scratch yourself?

Petrantoni: Look, I would not be able to draw a pear. I buy these books in England and France, books from the 1800s, I photocopy the material that I need and then create my collages. Following aesthetic rules that are purely personal, I create these things that are based on images from the 1800s. The fun part, using material that has been abandoned in antique bookshops, is that one can create things for brands that are absolutely modern and that cater to the younger audiences.

Click the image above to learn a bit about Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. The subttield version is here.

Create: Can you describe your process of creating one of these animations?

Petrantoni: Everything began with manual work: photocopies, X-Acto knife, glue, and so on. The computer was called upon only when the work had taken its final form. Then I scanned it and corrected small details. That is how I created the elements that my animator friend moved around the canvas.

The frames of the animation were composed the exact same way, and with the same attention to detail, as I would compose a static image that is typically used in a magazine or by a brand. With everything in place for each frame, the animation process could begin.

I also created a script and storyboard, including ideas for sound.

All of this was then handed over to the animator. I basically provided him with the elements and he moved them around the screen following the aesthetic rules we agreed upon. Then everything else and the music were like decorations to the image. 

This short reveals the moment in which painter Wassily Kandinsky embraced the abstract. Watch the subtitled version here.

Create: Which do you enjoy more, making an animation like one of these, or making a static illustration?

Petrantoni: I love creating different things. My work can be reproduced on whatever material or object—I once decorated a water reservoir in Manhattan. Diversification makes the work more stimulating, inspiring, and less monotonous. 

The one thing I want to underline is that even when using artifacts from the past, it is possible to create truly contemporary designs. My desire is that not everything gets forgotten and can be appreciated in a new form.

To see more of Petrantoni’s work, including illustrations, exhibitions, and the rest of these animated shorts, visit his website.

March 28, 2016